Tuesday, October 20, 2015

When the Angels Came to Jerusalem: Sort of an Apocalypse.

When the Angels Came

By David Hartley Mark

I. The Pensioners

            It all began with a knock on the door. Let me explain: my name is Yossi Elbaum: I live in Jerusalem, very close to the Old City. We have—that is, my wife Sarah and I—not left the house much, this past—how long is it? Two, three weeks? Since our people were attacked. Stabbed. Ach! Where else should a Jew be safe, if not in the Jewish State? We are pensioners, living on the little bit that I made as a shoemaker, years ago, and my Saraleh, let her be well, worked in an office, an insurance office. Klein, the man’s name was she worked for; Baruch Klein, from Stuttgart. That, plus what’s left that we receive from the Histadrut National Labor Union, keeps us alive, but barely.
            Religious? No, not really, though I like to go to shul once in a while: I see my friends there, you know. Believe in God? I suppose, though I was lucky to get here as a child, in a—I suppose you would call it sort of a Kindertransport, though it was from Rumania, not Germany. I don’t even remember all the details. Others in my family—those lucky to survive, of course—went to America, to New York, where else? We talk sometimes on the phone, in Yiddish. They don’t know how to speak it very well, so we get by, in a sort of pidgin Hebrew-Yiddish-English.

            Most of the family are dead. What can you do?

            Still, a Jew gets by. Or got by, until the attacks started. Shameful. Tragic. And now, I heard on the television that all of these soldiers, and more police, were coming to Jerusalem. I thought that would solve the problem. And when they came to knock on the door, I figured, well, let us see them, and get acquainted. Sara was ready: she had made some of her Mandelbrot, which everyone loves. Who doesn’t love my Saraleh’s famous Mandelbrot? You can dip it into coffee, or eat it as is. It’s already hard, so it takes a long time before getting stale.

            (No, My Dear, it doesn’t taste stale. We don’t keep it around long enough for it to get stale; everyone simply gobbles it up! What, I should lie to you, and we’re married already, Thank God, nearly sixty-five years?)

            So, where was I? Oh yes, the knock on the door. So I opened it. And the Angel is standing there. How did I know it was an angel? Well, for starters, he wasn’t in an Army uniform, which is olive and khaki. He was wearing white and gold. Robes, they were. And they sort of floated slowly, though there was no wind blowing, and they—shimmered, you would say—in the sunlight. It was late afternoon. I remember I could see the sun there, hanging directly over David’s Tower.

Yes, I remember: they shimmered. They were beautiful; absolutely lovely. Pure, the purest gold.

            I was surprised, and stood there without a word, for longer than I should have. This is not like me—you can see I have no lack of words. We Jews, you know….

Finally, the Angel spoke. Sort of a deep voice, but I wasn’t surprised. Beautiful Hebrew, too: the same Biblical Hebrew I remember from Psalms, from the Prayerbook:

            He said, “Is this the Elbaum Residence?” In that stately way, that special, classical Hebrew way. Not like a soldier would speak; no, not at all.

            And me? Well! I was struck dumb. Standing there like a shtumme, a deaf and dumb man. Finally, although I should ask his pardon, or God’s, for speaking this way, I asked, sort of chutzpahdik,

            “Who wants to know?”

            And he never got angry; he just got this wonderful smile on his face, and looked at me all so sweetly, and answered, “I am Katriel, the Crown of God; I am an Angel of the Lord, come down to earth, to visit you, Mr. Elbaum. May I come in?”

            So I let him in. What, an angel should be left standing in the street? I beckoned, and he walked in—I mean, sort of walk-floated, and began to walk-float, even before I beckoned—as if he had read my mind.

They can do that, angels. Amazing.

            I showed him into our little sitting room; Sarah calls it the parlor. She’s very European, my Saraleh. She’s not Rumanian, like me; she’s from France. Well, French Moroccan, anyway. She speaks Arabic and French, as well as Hebrew. She has much more culture than I do.

            “You’re a modern cultured lady, and you married yourself a Rumanian peasant,” I like to say to her, and she smiles, and kind of pushes at me with her elbow. She’s done that for years. We do love each other, very much. After all, we’ve been through so much, together….

            Children? Well, our daughter, Carmella, lives in Tel Aviv, with her husband Reuven—no, they have no children. Pity. I would have liked a grandchild. But what can you do? We also had our son Chaim, but he died in Lebanon, in ‘82. So long ago now, it seems….

Still don’t know what for, but we were very proud of him. He was going to be a scientist; he had already been accepted at Weizmann. Ah, well.

            The angel? Ah, yes. Well, he sat on the couch, or at least hovered above it; it was a little unnerving. And he never really spoke, but we heard his voice in our minds. The TV had been on, telling us of the stabbings in Beersheva, and Kiryat Gat, but we shut it off. Very depressing, it was. Those young Arab boys—who was giving them their instructions? Who was sending them out to die? Just imagine—well, I can’t imagine it, frankly. Terrible, just terrible. Innocent people, dying, right and left—but the angel was talking, in my mind.

            “There will be a meeting, tonight,” he was saying, “and we would like everyone in your your apartment block, indeed the entire neighborhood, to attend. Will it be a problem for Mrs. Elbaum? We can send a group to carry her, if she is unable to walk.”

            My Saraleh has a problem walking, you see. He—the angel, that is—could see her cane in the corner. She is very proud, and does not wish to use it. While he was speaking, this angel—what was his name, Katriel?—laid his hand, just briefly, on her leg, and, right there before me, I could see—the muscles seemed to knit together—how remarkable it was! Sarah turned to me, and said,

            “Yosef, my leg—my leg feels better! It feels stronger!”

            I tell you, it was a miracle from heaven. Amazing. ….

II. The District Commander’s Story

…As District Army Commander for the Western Wall, I can tell you that we were, despite what you may hear from the Prime Minister’s Office, stymied by this breakout of violence. I met with the Border Police Command, the Reservists’ Office, and the boys at Central Defense, and no one had a clear idea what to do, how to react. Finally, I found myself down at Ordnance, talking a Brigadier’s secretary out of activating a brigade of Skunk Gas Pumper-Trucks, and looking for a recent shipment of Kevlar Body Armor for the Border boys.

            It was hot work, there in the warehouse, with no air-conditioning available, and I was alternating between cursing at the Defense honchos on my personal walkie and taking calls on my cell. Finally, a sergeant came at me with another cellphone, and told me that somebody—an angel? What nonsense was this?—was waiting in her office, and wanted to see me right away.

            “Listen, Sweetie,” I said to her—and immediately regretted my choice of language—that course I took on no fraternizing with female personnel had, apparently, not helped—“I don’t have time to meet with any heavenly creatures. I have a brigade of Reservists soon to offload, and they’re going to need Kevlar to withstand these baby knife fighters coming at us from the West Ba—I mean, Judea and Samaria.” (You can’t be too careful with politika, these days.)

            “An angel, Brigadier,” she said, panting from the heat and her running, “an angel. Please. Come. Now.”

            So, I had no choice. And there they were, just like in the illustrated Tanakh-Bible my Grandma had given me when I was little, growing up on the Kibbutz—she never gave up, my Polish Grandma, trying to make us little savages religious, or at least, feel guilty about it…where was I?

Yes, there they were, the angels: all decked out in white-and-gold, like male models on their way to a nightclub. Two were carrying spears, so help me, and all had wings. Moving wings. Very buff, in sort of Roman-soldier uniforms.

Like performers at a male strip bar, I remember thinking.

            “What’s this about, Boys?” I said to them, “Hurry up; tell me your story. I’ve got an Army to run, and terrorists to chase after.”

            The tallest of the three stood up—now, I stand over six feet in my stocking feet, but, I swear, he towered over me, head and shoulders both. His hair was blonde, his eyes sky-blue, and he looked at me dead seriously as he saluted, which I returned. He then spoke:

            “Brigadier Yair Shalvi? My name is Michael, commanding First Coming, Holy Beings of Adonai. I bring orders directly from Metatron, Archangel Plenipotentiary, Heavenly Host of the Lord God Almighty. Your men are to cease and desist, and break off contact with any and all Arab people.”

            It was all I could do not to laugh in his face.

            “Do you know to whom you are speaking, Sir?” I replied, “I am Commanding Officer, First Jerusalem District, and have under my care the Western Wall, and the Old City and environs. So far today, this military district reports three attempted attacks, one successful, with three casualties, and the attacker, luckily, shot dead. I will do no such thing as you suggest. Why don’t you three costumed clowns go on to whatever party you were planning on attending?”

            He raised one hand, and his two followers lifted up their spears, but continued, calmly:

            “Brigadier, I am not surprised that you do not trust us. We are Angels of God, as I said. I bring orders from the Lord God Himself. God is displeased with human behavior—not just yours, Sir, but that of all humanity. God is in the process of making great decisions—decisions weightier than I can mention right now. In the meantime, your men must stand down.

“All Jerusalem residents, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and those of no faith, will gather in the Municipal Soccer Stadium, in different sections which my angels shall designate, at 1900 hours this evening. You have no choice; please do not resist us.”

            “By order of Worshipful Metatron, and the Lord God Almighty,” he said, and stared me directly in the eyes.

            As he said, I had no choice. I picked up my cellphone, and called Central Command….

III. The Yeshiva Student

…By the time we arrived at the Municipal Stadium, the place was nearly half-full. Angels of all types—Cherubim, Sphinxes, Chimerae, Ophanim, Holy Beasts, all being led and directed by Archangels—hovered above and around the entrances and exits. Anyone carrying a weapon had it removed and confiscated.

            As I went through an Angelic Checkpoint, a winged lion with fiery eyes stared at me: it appeared to have x-ray eyes, and I was permitted to pass. After me came that wild-eyed Zealot, Mordechai Ben-Chinam; he was not so lucky; no.

The angels nodded from the moment they spotted him; two beefy Chimerae seized him, and gently but firmly led him into a special chamber off to the side. It had clear sides, like a giant, diamondlike crystal—they locked Mordechai inside, and, while he beat against the glass,  beams of light appeared and surrounded him. It became too bright to watch, and I had to turn away. But when the lights all cleared and disappeared, the angels led him out, appearing more docile.

            “What happened to that man?” I asked a small cherub who hovered nearby.

            “God has his will,” the creature answered, and smiled angelically.

            It did send a chill up my spine….

            I am a yeshiva bochur, a Talmud student from one of the many yeshivote, rabbinical academies, near the Western Wall. When our particular Coming of Angels—their leader was Uriel—came to our Bet Midrash, our Study Hall, we welcomed them. Perhaps our familiarity with them from the daily prayers made us less surprised to see them in the Holy City. Have we not been praying for them, and awaiting their arrival for thousands of years?

            The Rebbe of the Yeshiva himself, the Nashelsker, whose father and grandfather had lost nearly their entire families in the Holocaust, led the singing and dancing through the yeshiva halls and into the streets, carrying the Sifray Torah, the Holy Scrolls. We were exhausted, and stood around our Holy Visitors, drinking l’Chaim—To Life!—in schnapps, Arak, wine, whatever we had—though it was hardly the Holy Shabbat.

            And when the Angels told us to gather in the Stadium, we did not hesitate: each of us grabbed a Holy Sefer-Book from the table or bookcase, and raced off, to hurry to do God’s will. Was Moshiach-Messiah about to arrive?

            As I entered the Stadium with my classmates and took my seat, high up on the benches near the silent scoreboard, I heard students from other yeshivote singing “The People of Israel live; our ancestors yet live.” It was persistent, and comforting.

            On the other side of the stadium, a group of young Muslim students were humming one of their holy songs: it was different, but they, too, seemed happy, and as docile as we. Muslim-type angels, led by one Jibreel, were hovering above.

            There was no bitterness or rancor whatsoever, between the two groups. It seemed remarkable to have all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, young and old, rich and poor, Jew, Muslim, Christian, and secular, all in that one place, and have no arguing, no fights, no bloodshed—a miracle!—take place, whatsoever.

In the middle of the stadium was a gigantic pile of rifles, taken from the soldiers; nearby was a great heap of shining knives that the holy creatures had confiscated from the young Arabs, and yet another pile of pepper spraycans, carried by a nervous Jewish, and some Arab, citizenry. Rubber tires intended for blocking streets stood off to another side. I had never seen anything like it, before. I saw also a smaller pile of slingshots and round stones.

Such a great pile of weaponry of destruction was both frightening and relieving. We all prayed “Thank God, thank God” to see them there, lying confiscated, useless, forgotten.

            Suddenly, there was a great sounding of sirens, and a huge motorcade pulled up, alongside one of the gates of the stadium—we could not see who it was, but, when they entered, we were amazed to see that it was none other than our Prime Minister and his Cabinet and their families. Every Cabinet Member, every politician, had their own angelic escort.

            We were happy—and amazed, as well—to see them.

            On the other side we heard the sound of helicopter rotor-blades, and saw an Israeli Air Force copter landing. Another miracle: the President of Palestine disembarked, bringing along with him representatives of his own governing body, and their relatives. Of course, there was a large Coming of Angels with them, too.

 This was all nothing short of history-making. Everyone was taking pictures with their cellphones—we had been allowed to keep our cellphones, and the Twitterfeeds and other social media were abuzz.

            Finally, when every single inhabitant of the Holy City, both Old and New, was assembled and seated—and, remarkably, there were no handicapped! All had been healed, by some miraculous infusion of angelic power—the leader himself, Metatron, the Arch-Regent of God, the Prince of Kabbalah, took the stand which had been erected—but it was found to be superfluous, for the mighty Seraph did not stand, but hovered, and swooped and soared, causing us to track his progress through the skies, as he climbed and dove to make his point. Remarkably—though we humans were used to it by this time—we did not hear his voice, but it echoed and re-echoed in the depths of our minds and hearts, in whatever language we spoke:

            “People of Jerusalem—People of Israel and Palestine! I address you all, for the first time in history, as a group. Having seen all the bitterness, rancor, and divisiveness between you, I am free at this time to disclose that the Lord God was, after decades of patience and forbearance, entirely upset and angered over what you have called “The Situation.” After consulting with us, His Heavenly Host, as He did at the very Beginnings of Time and Creation, the Lord God decided to do something totally unheard-of before in human history.

“God decided to intervene. As He did when His Jews were slaves in Egypt, reached out of Heaven and into human history.
“In His decision to evoke and enact peace in this, His Holy Land, among peoples whom God holds very dear to His heart, God took a drastic, but necessary step: He removed that aspect of human free will which He had previously totally and openly granted, and replaced it with a—“—here, the Archangel seemed to hesitate a moment—“sense of equanimity, patience and understanding, an ability to retreat from absolutist points of view, and share this enormous gift, this bounty which God has given to His people—and you are all, His people—in this, His Holy Land.

            “You are, all of you, participants in a great experiment—not just merely human any more, but partially divine—no longer free to indulge the animalistic tendencies of your nature, the carnal impulses of your beings, but to fully realize the better, more godly aspects of your selves, and recognize that it is better by far to live in peace.

            “Does this require a permanent concession of your pride, and a partial surrender of your absolute free will? It does.

            “Does this mean that an angelic force must remain on earth to—dare I call it?—police the peace, forever? Yes, for good and for bad; but we pray and hope that it will be for the good.

            “I leave it up to you: to return to the baser nature of your previously all-too-human selves, or to concede that smallest particle of your pride, your self-righteousness, and that selfish aspect of your respective religious and political traditions, in favor of peace and fraternity.

            “The choice is yours.”

            And the angel waited for our response….